5 Signs You’re Emotionally Abusing Your Child & Not Know It  

By Eve Bandusena | Parents Avenue’s Writer
Image Source: WebMD
As parents, when we hear about child abuse, we’re immediately horrified, and we think of our children. There’s a distance placed between us and such a profoundly heinous act. Mainly, because we could never envision ourselves doing such a thing. But, what if we did and we aren’t aware of it?
Am I guilty of emotionally abusing my child?
“We may believe that our children need to be ‘pushed’ by harsh methods to toughen them up through comparing, humiliating, deprivation, threatening, and judging, controlling..” says Dr. Alan Oh, resident counseling psychologist at Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu.
“While it is our intention to set them right on a desired path, we need to be aware that long-term and repetitive use of these methods could lower their self-esteem, and make them feel invalidated and insecure.” He continues.
“Most commonly, children learn to cope with their insecurities by fighting and avoiding, or a combination of both. By fighting and avoiding, their ability to connect with people around them and their growth may be adversely affected in the future.” He concernedly remarks.
Image Source: Metro UK

Signs to look out for…

#1 Silent Treatment


When situations get tense, we might bite our tongue to prevent ourselves from saying something regretful, or, need space in order to recollect ourselves but when does silent treatment become abusive especially when we parent? When it’s used as an instrument to create emotional distance, withhold our love and attention, and to punish our children. At the receiving end, our children will end up feeling ostracized, guilt-ridden and ashamed.


“I received the first of many silent treatments when I very young. To be honest, I can’t remember what I did to upset my mother, but I do remember she stopped talking to me for days, she wouldn’t even look at me. I felt guilty and that I was unloved in a place that was supposed to be my safe space.” – Adam


#2 Negate Childhood Struggles


“Why are you crying? Back in the day I was hit with belts! All you’re getting is a spank!” or, “Stop complaining! When I was young, I had it worse!” As parents, we want our kids to know that they have privileges that we didn’t have when we were young, but when we pit our childhood experiences against theirs, it can invalidate their own experience and struggles.


“This happened so many times over the years when I was growing up. As a child, however, I couldn’t understand and empathize with my father’s experience whenever he would compare our backgrounds. It made me invalidate and discount what I was going through and so, as an adult I have trouble accepting and experiencing my own struggles first-hand.” – Ava


#3 Basic Necessities as Privileges


A child has several basic needs: shelter, food, clothing, medical care and protection from harm and as parents, that’s what we’re obligated to provide our children. However, when we’re using these basic necessities as privileges in the following forms, “At least you have food on the table!” or, “Be grateful! At least you have a roof over your heads!” and denying them these basic needs and have them earn these it is downright abusive.


My father used to say to us when we were kids, ‘If you’re sick, don’t expect me to take you to the hospital!’ And, I didn’t understand that it was a basic need of a child. So, whenever we got sick, we never told our dad and we would often wait it out until we recovered on our own.” – Marvin

4# Emotional Neglect

Along with physical fulfilment, children need to feel emotionally supported as well. So, while providing physical sustenance is important, emotional nourishment is, if not, just as crucial to a child’s development. An example of this can be seen when a father might work around the clock and never be home to bond with his children, or, if a mother only focuses on the physical aspects of raising a child instead of the emotional parts. A child may undergo this abuse and not be aware of it and still live with the impact of emotional absence into adulthood.

“Growing up, my mom was always on top of things. Getting us up for school, going to work, coming back and cooking dinner for us which I appreciate a lot. But, most of the time it felt like she wasn’t there. It felt like something was missing the entire time.” – Jim

#5 Humiliating and Harmful Jokes

A nice, wholehearted joke can be fun, it can even light up the mood, others even manage conflict with humor. But when it’s done to deliberately to hurt, humiliate and shame your child in front of friends and family, this can be considered harmful. This happens when your child is the butt jokes, and if a child were to voice their dissatisfaction, they’re rebutted and are told that they’re “being too sensitive,” or, “I was only teasing!”


“This happened when I failed an exam when I was in primary school. My father laughed at me and said ‘I knew she’d fail!’ As a child, I was confused at why he would make fun of my failure and it made me feel frustrated, like I couldn’t get anything right.” – Laura


Dr. Alan answers, shortly and straight the point.   “We must not forget that as parents, our role is in preparing our children to be secure adults that are responsible, independent, able to connect with others and resourceful in the future.”


Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases. At Parents Avenue, we strongly recommend all our readers to seek medical advise from your local hospital or clinic. Thank you. 


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